How to Stay Soft in a World That Sees It As Weak

In my growing experience in the business world, I have found a recurring theme. There is very little patience or tolerance for people to be soft. For some reason it’s increasingly seen as a weakness; if you are not cutthroat, then you will not make it in insert-your-industry-here.

Employers are seeking workers who have edge and a desire to get ahead of others. Does having a considerate outlook now equate to a negative thing in the workforce?

A close friend and former co-worker of mine was once told by our then boss that she was “too soft” at a job that was no Wall Street type trade, where there might be a premise of professional aggression. I remember my friend confiding in me that it had been a struggle; people she has worked for in the past have thought of her as too soft for the job. I instantly rejected what our boss had said and told her that her softness was a gift, the ability to care deeply is a gift, and not to let anyone tell her otherwise.

This friend is one of the most organized and efficient individuals I have ever worked with. She gets stuff done. But somehow her caring personality was overshadowing her incredible work.

I think often about that particular situation and how our manager, who did not value softness, could write off such a hard worker like her.

soft world

When I was 18-years-old I had just started interning for a non-profit when I made a big mistake on something I was working on. The director of the organization, a very wise man in his fifties, called me into his office so we could talk about it. I remember feeling all of my emotions right on the surface as he calmly tried to talk with me. I was (and at times still am) very hard on myself, so during the conversation I felt heavy with remorse. After not getting much response out of me, my boss looked over with a sad smile and asked, “Are you okay?” The tears poured out and I admitted how much pressure I felt to do well in the internship and how bad I felt for my error.

After expressing myself I looked up to find that he, too, had tears in his eyes. He said to me, “You have a really soft heart. A lot of people start out with soft hearts and life turns their hearts hard. A soft heart is a beautiful thing, don’t let the world make your heart hard.”

 A soft heart is a beautiful thing, don’t let the world make your heart hard.

Hearing that advice from such an intelligent guy, who had seen so much more of life than I had at 18-years-old, has always stuck with me. And more than that, it has given me a desire to encourage softness in others when I see it.

There are so many people who believe it is one or the other, softness or strength, when the truth is there is so much strength in being soft. The ability to go through life without turning cold is tough, and it takes a lot of courage.

Can you forgive those who hurt you? Can you keep seeing the good in people even when they fall short? These are not easy things to continue doing. Softness, as it turns out, isn’t for the weak of heart. It’s for the brave.

Where do you think softness thrives in the workplace?

Images via Camila Gutierrez



Leslie likes to consider herself a walking SNL encyclopedia. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband, has crushes on used bookstores, drinks a lot of tea, and dreams of being a writer. She wants to laugh a lot and do what she can to help people in need.

10 COMMENTS
  • Emily June 16, 2016

    I absolutely love this article. I am the sensitive soul of my family and most often described as the giver. It feels weak when described by others but your article gave me this overwhelming feeling to be fine with just the way I am, for it is a rare gift.

  • Steve June 14, 2016

    I have a very soft heart but can be as hard as the situation dictates. The trick is simply realizing that having a soft heart does not mean that you should take crap from anyone.

    I kind of live by the creed Robert Heinlein once put forth: “I am an old fashioned gentleman which means I can be a revolving son of a ***** if it suits me”. If you need my help, you’ve got it. If you try to hurt me or someone else that I care about, there’s a good chance that it will result in my doing my level best to make you regret that decision.

  • Krispy June 10, 2016

    It’s a brave thing to let yourself be vulnerable and get passionate about everything you do, whether personal or in the workplace. To me, it’s the only way to live a fulfilling life, to feel all there is to feel about everything, and that’s something only a “soft” person could do. Working in a male-dominating field, I have really grown to appreciate that in my work.

  • V. Jill Davis June 4, 2016

    God loves soft and delicate things. True love in the most delicate thing in the world.

    Paraphrased from Upasni Maharaj – a spiritual master who lived in India in the late 19th and early 20th century.

    -V. Jill Davis

  • Hannah June 3, 2016

    Yes to everything in this piece.
    As a therapist, I work in an industry where softness can be highly valued when it comes to clients, but devalued when it comes to non-therapist type things like business management and marketing. It can be tiring to put up that “aggressive” front on the business side of things when I got into the field BECAUSE of my soft heart. I think it is such a shame that “caring too much” is even a thing. Caring and kindness should be the things.

  • Aileen June 3, 2016

    Excellent read! I think business today need to reevaluate their business models and remember what it’s all about…taking care of the people you work with. I believe you can now see a trend in successful companies that are thoughtfully incorporating the needs of their employees into their company standards.

  • I really appreciate this post. And how cool that your intern boss was so understanding and shared that wisdom with you. I also think that softness belongs to the brave. Vulnerability is for the strong not the weak! Thanks again for this post 🙂

    http://www.thebusinessofblooming.com

  • Karli June 2, 2016

    From two different bosses at two jobs I worked, both gave me the feedback “you need to be more aggressive.” Identifying as a very soft nature-person, this initially hurt a ton. My current boss elaborated on the definition a bit more saying that I needed to assert myself a bit more in following up on various projects. I tend to wait for things to happen or think “I might be bothering this person too much.” Aggression does not have to sacrifice a business relationship, but when used well can demonstrate your commitment to a project and overall your dependability as an employee.

    It’s been a struggle to balance for sure, but one book I found extremely helpful was Selena Rezvani’s “Pushback.” Understanding the way the people you work with work (that might take a second to read correctly) is also critical. I am an engineer in a very middle aged to older men demographic, and no offense because I love them all dearly, but men forget and NEED the constant pushback and aggression in order to get stuff done.

    Thanks for sharing and instigating this conversation!

  • Briana June 2, 2016

    Such a great post. This is a very important message that I hope can be taken to heart not only by those who relate to it, but by those people who make others feel bad for having a soft heart. It’s nice to hear the story about your internship boss and I certainly hope that there are many others like him out there.

    Briana
    http://www.youngsophisticate.com

  • Casey Overcash June 2, 2016

    I truly appreciate you writing this. I’m an extremely passionate professional, but I have dealt with this perspective of softness being a sign of weakness over and over in my career. I NEEDED to hear this. Thank you so much for highlighting the beauty of a soft heart.

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